We used the "holiday" E111 cover for the first few months in France. I applied for an E106, but didn't have any recent contributions to qualify, so I was without UK reciprocal cover until I reached 65 and could get an E121. In the intervening months I had to pay the French "stamp" which is means-tested. Declaring my income for past years was not straightforward and I was glad I'd brought sufficient bumf such as old pension payment slips and income tax returns; even then it had to be translated from the UK fiscal year to the French calendar year. But eventually we received our Carte Vitale, which also enabled us to get the Titre de Séjour, which enables us to stay as residents. It is said that EU rules have now rendered the Titre de Séjour unnecessary, if so the local Prefecture hadn't heard about it! In March 2004 I reached 65 and after much prodding and a three month delay, a lady rejoicing in the name Margaret Rutherford of the Pension Service sent me my E121 which meant that I stopped paying French "stamp".When Christine reached the age of 60 in 2006, she too got her E121 and her own Carte Vitale. My National Retirement Pension went down as she started to receive her NRP.
The Carte Vitale can be presented as part payment for medical services. For a consultation with a doctor, normally you present your card and pay, say, 22 euro (now plus 1 euro "pourboire" for the doctor); in the fullness of time 70% of the 22 euro is returned to your bank account by the government health assurance. When you take your prescription to the chemist, presenting your card to the chemist entitles you to a 65% reduction in what you pay; this 65% is returned to the chemist by the government health assurance. Most people take out a separate "top-up" private health assurance to refund the proportion not paid by the government, the refund may be automatic by the use of an additional, private assurance card, or by claiming it back using the periodic statements.
The health care is of a very high standard. There is an emphasis on pro-active preventive medicine, with the realisation that a few pills are far better than a stroke or heart attack.
I once ate a mushroom that I shouldn't have done (don't ask!), then was told that it might have been Amanita Phalloides, the Death Cap mushroom. A little research on the Internet told me that the prognosis was not good, and the best chance of survival was hospital treatment within the first 6 hours. So I dashed down to the local casualty department, to find it empty! In a matter of minutes my sample mushroom had been identified as non-toxic, my blood pressure had been taken (just to make sure) and I'd been sent on my way with the ever-present charm and politeness.
Ian's old trouble of back pain due to misplaced vertebrae doesn't get any better but nothing important has crumbled and dropped off. There was an exciting moment one Sunday evening, after Ian's doctor had tinkered with the blood-pressure medicines, when his pulse rate soared, necessitating treatment in the local hospital "urgences".
Creating websites and doing the cryptic crossword helps stave off Ian's incipient geriatric cognitive degradation - but they don't stop him standing at the fridge with the door open wondering what on earth he came for. This, of course, is nature's way of ensuring older people get more exercise…